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Army veteran Ochoa set to fight at Desert Rage XI
The nerves flowed through Joe Ochoa as he stepped into the mixed-martial arts ring for the first time in 2008. Ochoa wasn't a stranger to nerves. He'd just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.
As a 19th Delta Cavalry scout in the Army, Ochoa was responsible for delivering pertinent information on the enemy in the battlefield.
That experience in the military gave Ochoa the two attributes that are key to any fighter. He'll put them to the test Saturday against Chai Martinez in the Heavyweight Eliminator match at Desert Rage XI at Paradise Casino.
Ochoa said that 2008 fight taught him two important things.
“I would say it gave me determination and perseverance. Just the ability to keep trucking on. Like every other soldier that goes out there and does their thing, it's just determination. I put my head into it and just go forward.”
Although Ochoa lost that fight with a unanimous decision, the experience planted a seed in him that never stopped growing.
“I had fun. I had fun through my training camp, I had fun during the fight, it was a great experience. I felt like I could do a lot more and I could still do damage in the sport, so I'm getting right back into it.”
As with most people, life came between Ochoa and his dreams. He moved to Chicago for a year and then recently spent 10 months in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor for the military. But despite more than three years between fights, the thought of getting back in the ring never left his mind.
“There's always that little itch. You see it on TV and you think, ‘Oh, I need to be fighting.' Every time I saw an MMA fight, I wanted to do it but the circumstances never allowed it, but that drive has always been there.”
Ochoa got his first taste of fighting while on the wrestling team at Cibola. He says his background in wrestling has given him a great base to rely on after branching out to all the different disciplines of MMA.
“You have take-down defense, your balance, your core, everything's there. So you kind of base off of that and everything else just kind of comes naturally. So it gets you going, and especially in wrestling. It's such a tough sport, you have to cut weight, and that's what you have to do in boxing and MMA as well. It's a really good base, in the ring and outside the ring.”
When committing to something as strenuous and time-consuming as MMA, Ochoa has had to make plenty of sacrifices. Some bigger than others.
“For me, personally, it's been time with my wife and kids. I thank my wife for supporting me, she's been behind me. I sacrifice a lot of time with them to be here training, and she understands that and she explains it to my kids and they understand.”
With four kids ages 6, 4, 3 and 1, Ochoa said he's lucky to have such a strong support system at home.
“She knows my passion for the sport,” he said of his wife. “We'd be sitting side by side watching a match and I'd tell her, ‘You know, babe, I think I could be doing that. I've got that itch.' And she'd tell me to go do it.”
One of the biggest things Ochoa learned from his first fight was how important conditioning was to MMA. He trains daily with all of the different MMA disciplines, but staying in tip-top cardiovascular shape is a priority for him.
“I've been doing a little bit of everything every day, but mostly conditioning — a lot of conditioning. Probably one of the most important things is conditioning. You can be a good technical fighter, but at the end of the day, if the fight goes the distance, you're conditioning is really going to pull you through it.”
Ochoa noticed he was huffing and puffing toward the end of his first fight and is thrilled about the progress he's made.
“My first fight went the distance so it really showed. Right now I'm three, four, five times better than that. It really opened my eyes.”
Ochoa hopes to keep opening eyes Saturday.